Sugar workers' group hits PNP for 'NPA legal front' tag

Sugar workers' group hits PNP for 'NPA legal front' tag
Satellite image shows Sagay City in Negros Occidental
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MANILA, Philippines — The National Federation of Sugar Workers on Tuesday said the chief of the Philippine National Police had prejudged the killing of nine of its members in Negros Occidental over the weekend when he called the group a "legal front" for communist rebels.

The NFSW issued the statement in response to a claim that PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde made in a radio interview that the New People's Army uses the group to "occupy land and make money out of it."

In the same interview, Albayalde said the nine sugar workers killed in Sagay City by unidentified attackers last Saturday night were not "legitimate tillers" of Hacienda Nene, the property that members had conducted their "bungkalan", or land cultivation, activity on.

"That's one reason that the legitimate tillers there got angry," Albayalde also said.

In the same interview, Albayalde said the owner of the hacienda — identified in reports as a certain Barbara Tolentino — is also a person of interest in the case.

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The Bill of Rights recognizes "the right of the people...to form unions, associations, or societies for purposes not contrary to law." Membership in a national democratic activist organization does not automatically mean membership in, or even support of, the New People's Army.

"In effect, what PNP chief Albayalde is saying that the 'Sagay 9' deserved to be massacred because they belonged to a rebel front," NFSW secretary general John Milton "Butch" Lozande said in a statement.

On Monday, Albayalde also claimed the NPA was part of the "bungkalan", which he said was "a grand design to occupy private and government properties using their mass base and to create an untoward incident, then blame it on the government."

Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao, regional police director, meanwhile said police "are studying the possibility that they themselves were behind this and they're blaming the government." 

Lozande said the PNP's claims are not surprising, citing how local police "[have]already reported that some of those killed were armed and fought it out with their killers, ala Tokhang style."

NFSW also said a national fact-finding mission will be conducted this week in Sagay with human rights organization Karapatan and other groups.

"Other than this, the NFSW also welcomes the planned probe of the Commission of Human Rights on the massacre," the group said.

RELATED: 'Bungkalan' caused by unaddressed social injustice, land rights group says

On Tuesday afternoon, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also announced he has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to launch a separate investigation. The NBI was one of the agencies, aside from the CHR, that the NSFW had asked to look into the case.

In a separate statement, the National Democratic Front in Negros claimed that government statements "only aim to cover up the culpability of big landlords and their local auxiliary forces who are directly implicated in the Sagay Massacre."

On Monday, Department of Agrarian Reform Undersecretary David Erro said there were reports the Revolutionary Proletarian Army, which broke away from the CPP-NPA in 1996, may have been involved. 

"Apparently, before the incident, these so-called RPAs went to the area and harassed the farmers who were occupying the land," he said, stressing, however that the information has yet to be verified.

The NDF claimed the RPA "is now actively integrated as auxiliary force" of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The Communist Party of the Philippines, in yet another separate statement on Tuesday, said that the government's claims that the NPA is behind the killings are "outright lies." It said the government is "twisting facts and sowing disinformation."  — Jonathan de Santos

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